"I look at my life now and I say that if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't do it," he says. "I got to where I wanted to go, which was great, but it wasn't worth it. If I lived my life over again, I would stay the coach at Greenwich [Conn.] High School for 25 years and retire on Cape Cod."
He was offered other jobs after his 6½-year run with the Browns ended the way most coaching runs end—he was fired in 1984. He could have coached two other pro teams. He could have coached at big colleges. The job at Northwestern seemed interesting for a while, but his wife talked him out of it. "She said. Think about what it's going to feel like when you have to walk across that field and shake Bo Schembechler's hand after he beats you 56-10.' " Rutigliano says. "And she was right. That's the way it would have been. My wife didn't want me to go back. She was very much down on coaching. She said she didn't like what it did to men. She had seen too much."
The plan was to give speeches, do some television work, coast. Rutigliano was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, having become a Christian in 1962 after he fell asleep at the wheel and his four-year-old daughter was killed in the ensuing crash. He had gone to religion for help and found it. His five years away from coaching gave him time to speak more about his faith. He never was a fire-and-brimstone guy—more of a conversationalist. A quiet believer.
"I was on one staff in the NFL where every road trip, all of the other assistants would go out," he says. "They'd have their dancing shoes on before the plane landed. Wild. Every time, about three in the morning, they'd send either a prostitute or the bar bill to my room. I'd open the door and some waiter would say. "The bill is for $600.' I finally figured out the way to stop it. I just never answered my door."
A trip to speak at Liberty brought Rutigliano together with Falwell. The two men talked in general about what was needed to boost the school's football program. Later they met at LaGuardia Airport in New York. The discussions became specific. Rutigliano was offered the job.
This time his wife said he should accept. He had talked in the past about going back down the ladder, giving some of his experience back to the game. The Christian setting seemed right. "Some of my good friends, godly men, told me not to do it, not to go with Reverend Falwell because I'd be labeled," Rutigliano says. "I thought it over. The man has been pastor of the same church here for 33 years. If you could be labeled, that's not a bad label. If some things had happened in the past, well, if you had a bad meal, you don't stop eating."
There was an embarrassing bit of business to conclude: Liberty already had a coach, Morgan Hout, and his 1988 team had finished with an 8-3 record. Falwell didn't blink. He said Hout was not the man to lead the school to the next level. Last December, he offered Hout a cash settlement or a job as assistant athletic director. Hout took the cash settlement to Waco, Texas, where he's an unpaid assistant at Baylor. Falwell said there might even have been some perverse good in firing a coach with an 8-3 record. It drew more publicity than firing a coach with a 3-8 record.
Rutigliano was on the phone by Christmas Eve, calling each of his players and talking about plans for the new season. A pro offense was coming. A pro coach was coming. "This is where I'm supposed to be," he says. "It energizes me. These kids are really something. Everything they do is to glorify the Lord. Not once have I heard a kid swear on the practice field. Do you know how different that is? Swearing is a language the NFL is very fluent in. The first home game? No swearing. No cigarette smoking. No drunks; I mean my mother-in-law once had her handbag stolen at a game in Cleveland."
His players go to chapel on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. They go to services on Wednesday night and twice on Sunday—the entire student body stuffed into the gym. They pray before practice. They pray at the end of practice. Television sets are not allowed in dorm rooms. No sneakers in class. The televisions in the student center are tuned perpetually to the school's closed-circuit station: a sign above each set says: PLEASE DO NOT TURN TELEVISION SET OFF.
This is a total Christian environment. Visits to the local quadriplex are forbidden, so selected films are shown on campus. The movie one recent weekend was Oliver and Friends, a full-length Disney cartoon. A notation on the poster announcing the showing of the film said the movie was EDITED FOR LIBERTY UNIVERSITY. What could have been edited out?